Saturday, December 22, 2012

ukulele reindeer antlers

If only I could stop at the ukulele santa hat, I wouldn't feel quite so insane. But no ukulele Christmas is complete without a round of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and that calls out for a matching headpiece. 

Uh, doesn't it...?

This was just a couple of chenille stems wrapped around the headstock and with a glittery red pom-pom glued to the front. I wanted to be able to take it on and off, so started with a little hook, which was formed around a ruler.

The chenille was wrapped around the headstock horizontally, caught on the hook, and bent up and over the top—

—and twisted around the other side.

Nose glued on.

Antlers formed from another stem any old how.

The Flea headstock is rectangular, but the majority probably have this pointed tip in the middle. For those, a different configuration might work better:

DH saw these and cautiously asked if I were planning on making ukulele hats for every holiday. He said it in the tone of someone who has their foot halfway out the door, so I reassured him: No, of course not. These are just for the party.

But we'll see.

ukulele santa hat

When opening the Christmas decorations box this year, I noticed a little Santa hat that probably sat on a doll's head in years past. This year it looked perfect for the ukulele, so that's where it went.

And then I realized I couldn't stop there. We had an ukulele club Christmas party coming up.

I didn't think to start photographing the process until I was nearly done, but it isn't brain surgery and I'm sure you'll be able to adapt it to your own needs.

I eyeballed the hats into isosceles triangles, making them roughly 3" wide, which was the width of my headstock. I was using leftover knit fabric from the Santa hat I made last year, but it should be about the same whether you use fleece or felt or fake fur—anything that has a small amount of stretch to it. Running the warp of the fabric vertically from the peak to the center of the brim will help with the stretch (in other words, the selvedge should run parallel to the silver ruler, below).

A quarter-inch seam took the width down to where it would fit snugly.

All the trim was glued on. I used fabric adhesive because it gave me a little bit of extra control winding that feathery trim, but you could also use a glue gun or anything else that can attach fabric to fabric.

The final, and I think somewhat critical, step was gluing the tops down so that the hats could sit compactly on the headstock when the ukes were in playing position. I folded right over the seam and just added a dab of glue above the trim.

And here's the new, mass-produced version for my club friends. I actually like it a little better than the original due to the softer materials used.

Corny? Very. But also fun, and fun is what we're after when we play.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

hawaii wedding trip

Somehow I didn't manage a single post in November. The highlight for us was a trip to Oahu for the wedding of one of my baby cousins. Because my mom was the eldest in a family with a large age spread, most of our cousins were born when we were already grown and I still think of them all as babies—even though they are now in their 20s and 30s.

The trip was notable for being the first time in 10 years we've gone to Hawaii for something other than a funeral. And my own baby, S, turned 14 while there.

So it was a different, and memorable, trip for us. We started with a day canoeing.

photo by Karen Soon

That night there was a pre-wedding dinner for some of the family.

The wedding was outdoors and beautiful, poignant for the absence of my cousin's dad.

photo by Karen Soon

Here are my boys at the reception wearing their kukui nut leis.

photo by Stephanie Lee

DH wasn't able to make the trip with us and C had to leave after the weekend to get back to classes, so S and I went alone the North Shore for a few days.

Waimea Valley
Aoki's Shave Ice in Haleiwa

We spent the time hiking, snorkeling, watching a surf competition, and eating ono food. But for us, Hawaii always comes down to family, the reason behind every trip we make. We have a large family, so I'm only mentioning a few here.

My cousin Karen and her husband Randy took fantastic care of us from beginning to end, arranging the aforementioned canoeing trip, driving us to the fish market for lunch, meeting us for a last dinner, and giving us photos to remember the visit by.

Randy, Karen, Jason, Kanani

This auntie is special to S. He loves her cheerful, easygoing personality.

And then there is my grandma, 97 years young, grandmother of the bride, and the one who has taken care of so many of us there that day. I absolutely love this photo taken by Karen. Looking at it will always remind me of the joy around this wedding and how lucky we are to have the family we don't get to see nearly often enough.

photo by Karen Soon

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

other people's projects, part 2

Remember me mentioning a young mom who had questions about the firetruck costume? Well, Lora created her own version and has graciously allowed me to share her photos. I love what she's done and am including her notes here knowing they will be of use to someone at a future Halloween.

We used felt, cardboard box and cut outs.
Headlights are Starbucks frappucino lids wrapped in foil with electric tea lights.
Siren has buttons for flashing lights and fire engine sounds.  It's a Bruder truck attachment my husband found.  It's got a built in battery pack so we just wedged it into the top, worked like a charm and of course is the highlight of the costume.

Did you catch that? This firetruck has a flashing lights and fire engine sounds! And I love the ingenuity of using tea lights and coffee cup lids.

But wait—there's more:

Penelope (3.5) and Maceo (2)

Lora made both these costumes from scratch, continuing her mother's tradition of creating Halloween costumes every year for five children. How lucky are her kids?

I know my friend Jen is also making a firetruck this year and am looking forward to seeing her adaptation, as well. In this our first year without Jack O'Lanterns or scarecrows at the porch, it's truly a treat (bad pun—sorry) to see everyone else's projects and costumes.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

other people's projects

I guess it was inevitable, and all signs have been pointing this way for awhile: S is not interested in Halloween this year.

Pumpkin patch? No, he doesn't think so. Costume? "Don't you think I'm getting too old, Mom?" Party...? Corn maze...? All politely but firmly declined.

Given his entry into the school system and the amount of work he has each week, it's probably just as well. I have no idea how we'd get around to all the things we used to have time for, anyway. And yes, typing that sentence made me sad.

The irony is that one of this blog's most popular posts has consistently been the one about S's homemade Halloween costume. Recently I had a brief email correspondence with a young mom who had seen the truck costume and asked for construction details.

A few days later, I received a note from Gonzalo in Spain, mentioning that he and his wife were planning to make iPhone costumes for a birthday party. I love how theirs turned out—the accompanying Steve-Jobs-with-iPad is a nice touch!

image courtesy of Gonzalo Aragues Rioja

In this same period, my sister and niece created their own interpretation of a project from the blog, the sun jars (themselves a version of many other people's work). Be sure and check it out—the colored paint and marker-drawn faces are the perfect adaptation for doing this with a small child.

These emails, photos and blog posts came at just the right time. We are going through a lot of change right now: the kids not only are giving up Halloween, they are both in school and very, very busy. Our days are newly scheduled and in trying to rebalance to all this, I haven't been doing much that seems worth blogging about. So I'm grateful to hear from those who are, or who take the time to ask a question, say hello, or connect in any way. Thank you, all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


In September 1987, DH and I took a train to the American Embassy in Tokyo, where a consul performed a quick and simple ceremony. Afterwards we had lunch at the Imperial Hotel with the two friends who had been our witnesses, then DH and I flew to Sapporo for the weekend.

Thus were we married.

Fast forward 25 years and low key is still the name of the game around here. We talked about ways we might celebrate this purported milestone, but nothing really appealed. The kids both had classes, and we were all in the middle of a busy month.

In the end we went out for breakfast, browsed books at the library, made lunch and worked on projects around the house. Then we sat and played ukulele together. I showed DH what I'd learned at the recent Wine Country Uke Fest, and we tried a couple of basic duets.

Dinner was miso ramen, a nod to our honeymoon city of Sapporo. And after dinner C, who a few summers ago was "ordained" through the Universal Life Church, officiated as we renewed our vows on the deck. S brought the rings, now a couple sizes too small, and Maggie played the part of the rude and noisy guest.

It was just right.
C in impromptu clerical collar, trying to look priestly
S the ring bearer
After dinner we sat around and reminisced about what 25 years had brought us. In addition to the boys, we can mark our marriage by having:

traveled in 8 countries
lived in 3 of those countries
bicycled the perimeters of 2 of them
rented 4 apartments
slowly fixed up one house, and then another
kept 5 dogs, 5 cats, 1 goat, 1 sheep and countless chickens

And of course, the Silver Anniversary is so named because of all the silver hair, right?

What are the numbers in your life?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ukulele family

Have you ever seen Uke Minutes? They're great, and they often have an easy diy sensibility:
My version was made with an old fence plank because we had a pile of them in the backyard. Screws we had, as well, and it was an easy trip to the hardware store to get a handful of tool hooks.
This is how the resident ukulele population has grown in the last several months. There's the Duke, and the Gaspar--both of them relics of my mom's collection. Between them sits the blue Dolphin, now quite chipped and battered from life with two teen boys. The bookulele and a Lanikai that was a birthday gift from DH round out the little party.

Nobody needs five ukes, but I like playing all of these—they each sound and feel a little different. The Gaspar is extremely lightweight and has a soft, sweet tone. The Duke is bright and punchy. The Lanikai is ornate, sturdy and solid. It's a concert size, which I'm still getting used to. And the poor old Dolphin has quickly become the resident beater uke, easy to pick up and walk around the house with, or take in the car if I know I'll have to pass the time somewhere. I love it the way you love a favorite teddy bear.

Do you suppose I could fit a sixth hook in there...?

Friday, September 7, 2012


This past summer I noticed a handful of unpublished posts still sitting on this blog. After going back and forth, I decided not to dither any longer but to either purge or publish. This is the first one I looked at. If memory serves, I was waiting to incorporate some additional material but never got round to now, a full year (!) later, it is just going out as found:

Some time back I started compiling a list of all the interesting wiki pages I ran into, thinking...well, I don't know what I was thinking, really.

My interest was probably piqued because I live in a place which generated one of the earliest city wikis:
Davis, California
There are several more city wikis—and of course, where better to find a list than good old Wikipedia:
largest city wikis
A lot of wikis are hosted on Wikia: Harry Potter, The Office, Lord of the Rings, camerascoffee, vintage sewing patterns, to name just a few. Pick a popular movie, a game, or a tv show, and see if you can't find it here.

Homeschooling? Try Wikijunior or Wikiversity.

Interested in the world and its people? There's Wikitravel, Nativewiki, and one whose name made me laugh when I first stumbled across it: Sikhiwiki.

Like anyone reading this, I suppose, we use the computer for a lot of instant research. And let me add that I'm aware there is controversy over the dependability of the web in general, and wikis in particular, as reliable information content. But with appropriate caution in place, we've had fun wandering the stacks of these wikis when a particular question arose relating to:
Audio Recording
James Bond
Second Life
I have even started two wikis in the past: a general wiki for our local homeschooling group, and a specific class wiki when some of our kids were learning about countries of the world together. Wikis are a great community learning tool, given that their very nature is based upon community input; but they are dependent upon people being willing to learn to use the site and taking time to share their knowledge, whatever it may be. Here are a few sites that let you create your own wiki:
Google Sites
If you have a hosted site already, you can also use software to create a wiki:
My favorite wikis, however, are not information wikis but project wikis. What's better than to see cool things that people have made themselves?
Make Projects
How about you? What are your favorite wikis?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

keith builds an ukulele

C and I went back to Keith's workshop over the weekend. He and C talked about C's lap steel guitar project, specifically about setting up the homemade bandsaw Keith gave him to use for it.
Keith was in the middle of an ukulele commission for a Canadian client. He was about to start the bracing, which he planned to model on the unbuilt Martin he had acquired years ago. The Martin stamp is faintly visible above one of the braces.
We also got quick demonstrations on neck shaping:
and wood bending:
The last time we visited, Keith showed us a chunk of black walnut. Now it is quickly taking shape:
And maybe I'll get to show you the finished instrument someday. Or perhaps Keith will put it up on his own website.

January 2013 update: The finished ukulele can be seen here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

summer project #4: instant diy stadium cushion

How many projects are borne from a combination of procrastination and cheapness? In my case, many, if not most.

The procrastination: while shifting in my rock hard seat at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, I swore I would not return without a stadium cushion. And we are scheduled to leave...tomorrow.

The cheapness: I zipped out to the local sports store, only to find stadium cushions priced anywhere from $15-25. Multiplying that times 3 of us, I was simply unable to pull out my wallet. They've got to be cheaper somewhere, I thought, perhaps at Target.

The inspiration: at Target, the first thing I saw were these 99¢ polypropylene shopping bags:
Foam seat pads were $6 each (with coupon) at the fabric store:
They had to be trimmed; thus, the serrated knife in the picture. The secret to cutting foam is to pull the blade across in one direction—don't saw back and forth. I took 3" off the length, and 1" off the width for a finished size of 14"X14"X1". Wrapped back in its plastic wrapper, the foam slipped easily into the shopping bag:
That was it. $7, and 5 minutes: my favorite kind of project. By leaving the top open, we can add a light blanket or a program, and the pocket on the side is perfect for holding tickets, snacks or handwarmers.
Now to finish packing and then Ashland, here we come!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

happy birthday, julia child

This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!
~ Julia Child
She may have gone to Smith, but Julia Child had the heart of a born unschooler. Today would have been her 100th birthday and if there were ever a reason to eat a good meal and appreciate every bite, this is it.

I don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking, nor any other books by Julia Child. I love her mainly because I have memories of coming home from school and watching her show. She fascinated me because she was both extremely knowledgeable and kind of silly. She was sloppy and playful and skilled all at once—a reassuring model for any child.

During this same time my neighbor was going to college in Cambridge, where Julia lived and worked. She remembers occasionally catching glimpses of the green VW Beetle with a spoon or a spatula (she doesn't remember which) wired to the antenna; everyone in town knew it was Julia's car. She and her friends gathered every week to watch The French Chef as it was broadcast, then again on the weekend to cook the dish Julia had made on tv. Apparently Julia's favorite corner butcher shop always ran out of the cut that was featured in the recipe, so savvy Cambridge residents would get there as soon as possible after the show.
Remember, 'No one's more important than people'! In other words, friendship is the most important thing—not career or housework, or one's fatigue—and it needs to be tended and nurtured.
                                                                                                      ~Julia Child

I suspect that cooking was merely a medium for Julia's particular joie de vivre. She loved food because she loved living. She loved to cook because she loved eating with people. And likewise, we love her not for her beef bourguignon, but for her huge and inquisitive spirit.

Last night some friends and I paid our own kind of tribute. The movie Julie and Julia played in the background while we assembled salade ni├žoise, warmed up quiche and mixed upside-down martinis.
Dessert? There were two: chocolate mousse, and reine de saba cake, complete with birthday candle and singing.
Whether or not you are inclined to make a special meal, I hope today that you eat well, try something new, tend to friendship, and above all, have some fun.

And if you do any one of these things, give a little nod to Julia Child.

Monday, August 13, 2012

summer project #3: fixing the bookulele

It's mid-August, and we're only on project #3? Drat, I had such big plans, too.

I guess it was yet another summer where the calendar looks so promisingly empty in May but gets filled up day-by-day with friends, movies, house and yard work, and a certain amount of heat-induced laziness. And the one project I did manage to do lately is really just a refinement:

Although the bookulele played fine initially, over time the cardboard body began to bow from the tension of the strings. I also felt dissatisfied with the neck, which was not even with the fretboard but stuck out just enough to feel wrong.
So this weekend I took it apart and put in some very rough bracing cut from scrap wood.
Then I filed down the neck so it was more even with the fretboard, sanded it smooth, and started the stain/finishing process all over again.
This was the 5-minute rig for spraying lacquer on: a wire clothes hanger, a paint stick, a bike stand, a plastic dropcloth. Not very professional, but it worked for this purpose!
Here's the reshaped and refinished neck:
And here's the bookulele, not looking a whole lot different than it did back in April but feeling better in my hands:
I didn't trim the strings because, frankly, I'm not sure how much I'll be playing this. The action is unpleasantly high, even after taking the saddle down a little (not a lot, as I was afraid to go too far). And it just doesn't have the sound that makes me want to pick it up. It's a cardboard body, after all. I imagine that within a year I'll be reusing the strings, bridge and neck for something else.

But as crude as this little uke is, I learned a lot from doing it—not just about the build process, but also in some way about music, as well. It's always that way, isn't it? Making things is an approach from a different direction.

With that in mind, I want to give a grateful shout-out to the friend who passed her old bass body to the boys. C talked with Keith about it, bid on a used neck on eBay, and helped his brother clean up and make the bass playable again. They've had their hands all over this instrument and now have a better understanding of how it plays than if they had purchased new. That, to me, is the perfect outcome of a good project.

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